Tech analysts have been predicting the true arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT) for many years, but the truth of the matter is that these smart devices have been part of everyday life for quite some time. Smartphones have been redefining communications and data networks for a decade now, and the telecom industry has been fighting to keep up with the latest innovations so they can deliver the level of speed and connectivity customers are demanding with the release of every new device.
According to 2018 data from Pew Research, 77% of Americans own a smartphone, up from just 35% in 2011. The rapid adoption of these powerful mini-computers has fundamentally redefined the way customers produce and use data (including content). Mobile edge computing offers a potential solution for companies looking for ways to redistribute the heavy strain on their networks while providing faster, better service to users.
With the proliferation of IoT devices along with high content delivery services like Netflix, networks are experiencing far greater levels of strain than they were ever intended to handle. When it comes to mobile phones, their application processing workload is handled in the cloud rather than on the device itself due to power constraints. With all those devices trying to interface with the cloud and access data-heavy content, latency and bandwidth problems are inevitable.
Existing 4G (shorthand for fourth generation) networks were deployed between 2006 and 2010. While sufficient for typical mobile usage, 4G networks were designed before almost every device in the typical household connected to the internet wirelessly. The telecom industry has responded with the development of 5G technology, which promises to deliver much faster speeds. 5G networks will be critical to the growth of mobile edge computing architectures by helping them to maximize speed and processing effectiveness.
In order to capitalize on the potential of edge computing, Content delivery services and IoT devices will need software applications that are optimized to operate in such a decentralized ecosystem. With so many companies implementing their own network solutions, it will fall to software developers to solve connectivity issues and create a new language for mobile edge computing platforms. By providing them with the tools they need to tap into the distributed infrastructure of edge computing networks, telecom companies and device manufacturers can promote innovative new solutions that offer enhanced customer experiences and better service. Mobile edge computing applications will be a critical part of this effort.
One of the more exciting mobile edge computing use cases is the implementation of augmented reality (AR) services. Powered primarily by smartphones, AR programs have the ability to interface with local IoT devices to provide the user with an enhanced view of the world around them. From educational uses like museum galleries that relay information about exhibits in real-time when a visitor points their phone at it to industrial applications that transmit and display critical sensor data from machinery on the factory floor in real-time, AR applications have incredible potential to enhance customer experiences and productivity when powered by mobile edge computing.
One of the challenges of implementing 5G infrastructure is finding ways of handling the massive amounts of data that IoT devices will be dumping into the network by the exabyte (and eventually, the zettabyte). Edge data centers have proven to be an effective solution for mobile edge computing networks that need to direct data quickly and efficiently. Choosing where to build new data centers, however, is always a bit of a challenge for edge computing companies, especially considering the significant capital expense involved.
Many telecom companies have adopted the novel solution of installing “micro” data centers at the base of their cellular towers. Since much of the data traveling through their networks is already being relayed through cell towers, installing processing and storage capacity on site has proven to be a practical and cost effective solution. Considering that cell towers are already located in high-service areas, it stands to reason that the same markets will benefit from the advantages offered by mobile edge computing.
Security is a key concern for any network, and with mobile edge computing greatly expanding the number of potential access points across these networks, telecom companies are already thinking of ways to provide higher levels of protection for their customers and their valuable data. Since not all IoT devices have the processing power to run effective security software, much of the security burden is being pushed to the next closest processing device. By installing secure gateways on these devices, edge computing companies can effectively erect a firewall between IoT devices and cloud infrastructure. With these security measures in place, the potential danger of a compromised IoT device is greatly diminished.
With the number of network-enabled devices expected to continue rising over the next decade, telecom companies are scrambling to make sure their networks can handle the increased data traffic. By implementing mobile edge computing infrastructures, they can leverage many of the computing resources they already possess while delivering faster service with reduced latency. Keeping more data near the edge of the network and closer to end users reduces the strain on their bandwidth and makes it possible to deliver innovative mobile edge computing applications and services without compromising performance.